At the end of April, a six month period of strict travel restrictions came to an end in Scotland. One of the first places we visited after lockdown was the Isle of Arran. This post features our itinerary from that trip.
We were joined on our Island adventure by my Mum and her Westie, Harris. My daughters came too. My ‘First Born’ with her boyfriends S and ‘Second Born’ (formerly ‘The Teen’) with her other half Z.
Day 1, Isle of Arran
We caught a morning ferry from Ardrossan on the Mainland to Brodick, Arran’s largest settlement. Seven humans and two wee white dugs were looking forward to spending three days sightseeing, hiking wildlife watching and relaxing.
We arrived on the island mid-morning, raring to go. With three first time visitors amongst us (my Mum, First Born and S), I wanted to show them somewhere that encapsulates everything I love about the Isle of Arran. Lochranza was the obvious choice. There we’d find stunning scenery, history, hopefully some wildlife and whisky. What more could you want?
Parking near Lochranza Castle, we strolled towards the fortress for a closer look. The castle stands on a narrow peninsula that juts into Loch Ranza. It incorporates a rare medieval hall-house dating to the 13th century and a 16th century L-plan tower house – two castles in one.
Leaving the castle, we walked through the village towards Lochranza Distillery. I was hoping to spot some of Lochranza’s resident stags, but they were conspicuous by their absence.
We popped into the distillery shop to buy Arran Gold (a heavenly whisky liqueur). Shopping done, we headed back to the cars. En route we spotted a red deer hind with a calf – result.
Driving along the coastal road, bound for Machrie Moor, we saw seals sunbathing by the shore. We hastily parked the cars and hopped out to seal spot.
When we arrived at Machrie Moor, we set off along the path to the monuments. It meandered through farmland where adorable spring lambs were frolicking in the sunshine.
We stopped to watch a hairy caterpillar crossing our path. What followed became known as the Massacre of Machrie Moor. Harris trod on the poor caterpillar, bringing its life to a tragic end. I cursed him and his clodhopping feet.
Scattered across Machrie Moor are a number of stone circles and cairns, dating back thousands of years. They’re thought to have been used for ceremonial purposes such as rituals associated with death. The tallest standing stone is a 5.5 meter giant. It’s quite a sight to see.
As we were walking back to the car park, I spotted a magnificent beast hovering overhead. It was a golden eagle, scanning the landscape to find a wee beastie for dinner.
Auchrannie Resort & Spa
A few years ago, I was invited to review the Auchrannie Resort & Spa. Mr G and I spent a weekend there in a beautiful suite and loved it. We knew the others would too, so chose Auchrannie for our family break.
We booked Executive + rooms with access to a private lounge with a terrace and hot tub. After spending months in lockdown, we all needed a little luxury.
After unpacking, we congregated on the terrace to toast the weekend with an alcoholic beverage, or two.
Cold drinks, good company and laughter. Adios lockdown, hello freedom.
In the evening, we ate at Auchrannie’s Eighteen69 Scottish tapas restaurant. The ambiance, service and food were superb. Amongst the delicious dishes we devoured were lobster and crayfish burgers with mango and chilli mayo, sweet and sticky chicken with crispy kale and garlic nuggets and pulled pork sliders with pineapple salsa. And to finish – butterscotch parfait with earl grey & orange jelly.
Day 2, Isle of Arran
Our second day on the Isle of Arran started with breakfast at 8:15am – a time considered ungodly to all but Mr G and I.
The forecast for the day was a stinker, with high winds and rain expected to last for most of it. The girls had decided to mooch around the resort, spending quality time with their BFs.
Us hardy souls were heading out into the great outdoors, but first I’d be visiting the spa for some me time.
I’d booked a back of body, bamboo massage to rid me of the knots and tension caused by spending too long at a desk.
Bamboo massage is a deep tissue massage, that uses oil and heated bamboo poles. It’s firm, but not ouch, firm.
An hour after arriving at the spa, I was knot and tension free and feeling calm.
How long the calm would last was uncertain, as it was time to embrace the wild weather outside.
Clad in waterproofs, we left the warmth of Auchrannie and drove south.
Passing through the village of Lamlash, the weather didn’t seem too bad, so we decided to find somewhere to stop for a short (and hopefully dry) walk.
Kingscross Point is a scenic spot, with a view looking over to Holy Isle – home to a Buddhist retreat. The remains of a Prehistoric dun (fort) still stand at Kingscross Point. Archaeologists found a Viking grave there too, so it’s a must for history lovers visiting the island.
On a wild day it’s a brilliant spot to stand and marvel at the power of the sea. On those days, you can almost hear the warlike cry of the Vikings.
When we arrived back at the car after our wander, it was ‘blawin’ a hoolie’ again. Perfect timing.
Velo Cafe, Lagg
We continued along Arran’s coastal road. Occasionally, waves would crash onto the road, adding a sense of drama to our journey.
It was time to find somewhere warm and dry for lunch.
We found the perfect place in the pretty village of Lagg.
After a warming bowl of soup, sandwiches and a caffeine fix (plus biscuits for the boys), we were ready to leave Velo Cafe for another short walk to a historic site.
A light drizzle was falling, as we set off along the wooded path that leads to Torrylin Cairn.
The trees provided us with shelter and a carpet of bluebells, a cheery splash of colour.
Torrylin Cairn has been much disturbed over the years, but there’s something quite special about it. Built in the Neolithic period, the tomb was in use for 1,000 years. On a clear day, you can see Ailsa Craig from it. Alisa Craig is an island in the Firth of Clyde. We couldn’t see past the end of our noses. If we could, we’d have been able to see that the inner chamber of the cairn, appears to align with the island. Coincidence? Who knows.
As we left Torrylin the heavens opened. We were drookit (soaking wet) by the time we reached the car.
Auchrannie Resort & Spa
Back at Auchrannie, we enjoyed some chill time before heading to Cruize Bar and Brasserie for dinner. First Born and S joined us there. Second Born and Z opted to have a romantic dinner for two. They’d spent lockdown apart, so who could blame them. It was lovely to see them reunited.
Our table of four tucked into curries, roast dinners, fish and steak pies, as we shared tales of our day. First Born and S had braved the wild weather and played a game of pitch and putt at Lochranza. They’d been battered by wind and rain, but they’d had a laugh and spotted one of the local stags too.
Day 3, Isle of Arran
And then there were five. Day three on the Isle of Arran began with another 8:15am breakfast. First Born and S dropped out. The thought of another early start had been too traumatic for them.
After breakfast, plans were made to meet up later with my ‘not morning people’ daughters and BFs.
The rest of us headed out to explore.
One of the things I love to do on our travels, is seek out hidden history and quirky gems. I’d managed both by 10:00am.
Our first stop, took us to Stronach Wood on the outskirts of Brodick. A short walk uphill, into a forestry plantation led us to a rocky outcrop decorated with some remarkable prehistoric carvings.
The cup and ring marks were easy to make out and amongst the best I’ve seen. The dominant pattern was a keyhole motif, which is quite rare.
This lesser-known historic site is a real gem. Even without the history, it’s a pleasant walk, that offers an opportunity to forest bathe.
The Doctor’s Bath, Corrie
Heading away from Brodick, we took the scenic route along the coast towards Lochranza. We stopped on the outskirts of the village of Corrie for our second island gem of the day.
Hidden in plain site on the rocky shoreline, is a Victorian oddity known as the Doctor’s Bath. Unless you were looking for it, you’d never know it was there.
The Doctor’s Bath is a sandstone pool (12 feet long, 5 feet wide and 5 feet deep), with steps leading into it. Apparently, it was carved in 1835 at the request of the local doctor, Dr McCredy. He wanted his patients to benefit from the healing powers of salt water. The bath could accommodate several patients at a time. The thought of plunging into a rocky coffin, filled with cold sea water and other people sounds like hell.
They do say, what doesn’t kill you, cures you.
It was now deemed a reasonable time in the morning for the others to set foot outside. We’d be meeting up with them for a walk at our next destination.
Mr G and I had walked the King’s Cave circuit before, but it’s a nice walk and we wanted to introduce the others to it.
Setting off along the trail, everyone was in good spirits. The circuit passes through woodland, before emerging high above the shore. Ahead of us we spotted S staring out to sea, transfixed. He told us he’d seen a bird dive-bombing into the water. Nothing beats watching gannets hit the water at speeds of up to 60mph as they hunt for fish.
We continued along the path, following it down to the shore. There are a number of caves along the coastline, but the most famous is King’s Cave. It’s linked to the tale of Robert the Bruce and the spider. Bruce was on the run – cold, dejected and about to give up. Seeking shelter in a cave, he watched a spider spinning a web. The web kept breaking, but the spider never gave up. Bruce was so inspired by the spider that his mood lifted, and the rest is history.
For me, King’s Cave offers something more exciting than a tenuous link to Bruce. The cave walls are covered in carvings. There’s Victorian graffiti, but look closely and you’ll find horses, human figures, Christian crosses, serpents and Ogham script. Many of the carvings are medieval. Some could be even older.
We had fun trying to find as many as we could.
I’d be fibbing if I said the walk back to the car park was enjoyed by all. It climbs steeply up from the shore, before snaking into woodland that never seems to end.
By the time we reached the car Mr G and First Born were hangry. We needed to find a lunch venue – fast.
Lunch – Kinloch Hotel, Blackwaterfoot
Thankfully, the Kinloch Hotel in Blackwaterfoot was nearby. Mr G and I had eaten there a couple of times before, so knew it was dog friendly and served good food.
Orders were taken quickly and the food arrived after a short wait. Hanger averted – phew.
The food was excellent and the opportunity to rest weary feet appreciated.
Leaving Blackwaterfoot, we decided to squeeze in a magical short walk, before heading back to Brodick.
Fairy Glade, Kildonan
Near Kildonan, is a lovely area of woodland with several trails in it. One murderous uphill path leads to Eas Mor Waterfall, but another drops steeply into a magical fairy glade.
Getting to the fairy glade took little effort thanks to the steep incline of the path. It forced us downhill, as if we were possessed by powerful fairy magic.
At the bottom we rested in a beautiful leafy gorge, complete with a small waterfall. We spotted fairy folk there, hiding amongst the greenery.
Luckily, only the drivers and Z had to navigate the North Face of the Eiger back to the car park. There was an exit onto the roadside near the fairy glade. We waited there like queen bees, while the boys collected the cars and came to pick us up.
Back to Brodick
Back in Brodick, we stopped at The Parlour for some Arran Ice Cream. The vast selection of flavours on offer made choosing difficult. Arran Gold, mint choc chip, coconut, vanilla and raspberry ripple were scoffed in record time.
Back at the hotel, we congregated on the terrace for a drink. It was a tad breezy, but being Scots we persevered. We later retired to our rooms for an evening of take-away pizza and relaxation.
Day 4, Isle of Arran
Our last morning on Arran dawned and just the early birds (and my mum) made it down to breakfast at 8:15am. We’d be meeting the others later, before catching the ferry home. First, there was time for one last walk on the island.
Hutton’s Unconformity, Lochranza
The short, waymarked walk started at the head of Loch Ranza.
It was a drizzly morning, but we were cheered when we spotted stags at the start of the walk. Stags shed their antlers in the spring, so these guys didn’t look too majestic sporting fuzzy, stumps. By late summer, their antlers will have grown back, ready for the testosterone fuelled showboating of the rut.
Our walk led us past the oldest rocks on Arran. Known as Dalridian schist, it started forming 540 million years ago, when sediment was deposited on the sea bed. We saw evidence of it having been reformed and folded by tectonic processes that had taken place deep inside the earth.
Further round the coast, layers of Carboniferous sandstone were present.
In 1787 the Scottish geologist James Hutton made a startling discovery at this location. The way the two different rock types were sloping, told him there was an unconformity nearby. In 1787, the earth was thought to be 6,000-years-old. At the point where the two rock types met (the unconformity), Hutton realised it would’ve taken a considerable period of time for the rocks to form in this way. He went on to discover other unconformities and advanced his theory that the earth was much older than 6,000 year. His theory was accepted by other scientists and came to be known as ‘deep time’.
I’m no geologist, but when it’s wrapped up in history, I’d go as far as to say geology rocks.
Brodick and homeward bound
Back in Brodick, we met up with the others for a round of adventure golf. As we struggled to putt shots round the Isle of Arran, over the Forth Bridge and past standing stones, some competitive rivalry and bickering crept in.
Half the fun of adventure golf is laughing at other people’s misfortunes. It’s safe to say that between us, we had a lot to laugh about.
Only Mr G took it seriously. When he got the only hole in one of the round, he acted like he’d won the Ryder Cup.
Eighteen holes complete, seven happy island hoppers and two wee white dugs boarded the ferry to Ardrossan, waving a fond farewell to the Isle of Arran.
Until next time …